Notably, there are about 82,000 feral horses that roam freely in the wild in certain parts of the country, mostly in the Western United States. While genus Equus, of which the horse is a member, originally evolved in North America, the horse became extinct on the continent approximately 8,000–12,000 years ago.
In 1493, on Christopher Columbus' second voyage to the Americas, Spanish horses, representing E. Catullus, were brought back to North America, first to the Virgin Islands ; they were reintroduced to the continental mainland by Hernán Cortés in 1519. From early Spanish imports to Mexico and Florida, horses moved north, supplemented by later imports to the east and west coasts brought by British, French, and other European colonists.
Native peoples of the Americas quickly obtained horses and developed their own horse culture that was largely distinct from European traditions. Horses remained an integral part of American rural and urban life until the 20th century, when the widespread emergence of mechanization caused their use for industrial, economic, and transportation purposes to decline.
Modern use of the horse in the United States is primarily for recreation and entertainment, though some horses are still used for specialized tasks. A 2005 genetic study of fossils found evidence for three genetically divergent equip lineages in Pleistocene North and South America.
Recent studies suggest all North American fossils of caballine-type horses, including both the domesticated horse and Przewalski's horse, belong to the same species: E. ferns. Remains attributed to a variety of species and lumped as New World stilt-legged horses belong to a second species that was endemic to North America, now called Haringtonhippus Francisco.
Digs in western Canada have unearthed clear evidence horses existed in North America as recently as 12,000 years ago. Other studies produced evidence that horses in the Americas existed until 8,000–10,000 years ago.
Equine in North America ultimately became extinct, along with most of the other New World megafauna during the Quaternary extinction event during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago. Given the suddenness of the event and because these mammals had been flourishing for millions of years previously, something unusual must have happened.
The first main hypothesis attributes extinction to climate change. For example, in Alaska, beginning approximately 12,500 years ago, the grasses characteristic of a steppe ecosystem gave way to shrub tundra, which was covered with unpalatable plants.
However, it has also been proposed that the steppe-tundra vegetation transition in Bering may have been a consequence, rather than a cause, of the extinction of megafaunal grazers. The other hypothesis suggests extinction was linked to overexploitation of native prey by newly arrived humans.
The extinctions were roughly simultaneous with the end of the most recent glacial advance and the appearance of the big game-hunting Clovis culture. Several studies have indicated humans probably arrived in Alaska at the same time or shortly before the local extinction of horses.
Horses returned to the Americas thousands of years later, well after domestication of the horse, beginning with Christopher Columbus in 1493. These were Iberian horses first brought to Hispaniola and later to Panama, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and, in 1538, Florida.
The first horses to return to the main continent were 16 specifically identified horses brought by Hernán Cortés in 1519. Subsequent explorers, such as Coronado and De Soto brought ever-larger numbers, some from Spain and others from breeding establishments set up by the Spanish in the Caribbean.
The first imports were smaller animals suited to the size restrictions imposed by ships. Starting in the mid-19th century, larger draft horses began to be imported, and by the 1880s, thousands had arrived.
Formal horse racing in the United States dates back to 1665, when a racecourse was opened on the Hempstead Plains near Salisbury in what is now Nassau County, New York. There are multiple theories for how Native American people obtained horses from the Spanish, but early capture of stray horses during the 16th century was unlikely due to the need to simultaneously acquire the skills to ride and manage them.
It is unlikely that Native people obtained horses in significant numbers to become a horse culture any earlier than 1630–1650. From a trade center in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area, the horse spread slowly north.
The Comanche people were thought to be among the first tribes to obtain horses and use them successfully. By 1742, there were reports by white explorers that the Crow and Blackfoot people had horses, and probably had them for a considerable time.
The horse became an integral part of the lives and culture of Native Americans, especially the Plains Indians, who viewed them as a source of wealth and used them for hunting, travel, and warfare. In the 19th century, horses were used for many jobs.
In the west, they were ridden by cowboys for handling cattle on the large ranches of the region and on cattle drives. In some cases, their labor was deemed more efficient than using steam-powered equipment to power certain types of mechanized equipment.
At the same time, the maltreatment of horses in cities such as New York, where over 130,000 horses were used, led to the creation of the first ASPCA in 1866. In the 19th century, the Standard bred breed of harness racing horse developed in the United States, and many thoroughbred horse races were established.
Horse-drawn sightseeing bus, 1942At the start of the 20th century, the United States Department of Agriculture began to establish breeding farms for research, to preserve American horse breeds, and to develop horses for military and agricultural purposes. However, after the end of World War I, the increased use of mechanized transportation resulted in a decline in the horse populations, with a 1926 report noting horse prices were the lowest they had been in 60 years.
In 1912, the United States and Russia held the most horses in the world, with the U.S. having the second-highest number. There were an estimated 20 million horses in March 1915 in the United States.
But as increased mechanization reduced the need for horses as working animals, populations declined. A USDA census in 1959 showed the horse population had dropped to 4.5 million.
Numbers began to rebound somewhat, and by 1968 there were about 7 million horses, mostly used for riding. ^ One hypothesis posits that horses survived the ice age in North America, but no physical evidence has been found to substantiate this claim.
“Evolution, systematic, and paleogeography of Pleistocene horses in the New World: a molecular perspective”. “Ancient DNA Clarifies the Evolutionary History of American Late Pleistocene Equips”.
^ Hartman, Peter D; Paula, Grant D; Machete, Ross DE; Scott, Eric; Cahill, James A; Choose, Brianna K; Knapp, Joshua D; Stiller, Mathias; Woollier, Matthew J; Orlando, Ludovic; South on, John (November 28, 2017). “A new genus of horse from Pleistocene North America ".
“Rapid body size decline in Alaskan Pleistocene horses before extinction”. “Steppe-tundra transition: a herbivore-driven biome shift at the end of the Pleistocene”.
“A calendar chronology for Pleistocene mammoth and horse extinction in North America based on Bayesian radiocarbon calibration”. ^ Slow, Andrew; Roberts, David; Robert, Karen (May 9, 2006).
“On the Pleistocene extinctions of Alaskan mammoths and horses ". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (19 ed.).
“New carbon dates link climatic change with human colonization and Pleistocene extinctions”. “Iberian Origins of New World Horse Breeds”.
Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Animal Industry, United States Department of Agriculture. Horses in Society: A Story of Animal Breeding and Marketing, 1800–1920.
I was reading a recent article about wild horses and their origin in North America. This article made me wonder if there were native horses in North America before the Spanish arrived.
Forty-five million-year-old fossils of Phipps, the ancestor of the modern horse, evolved in North America, survived in Europe and Asia, and returned with the Spanish explorers. The early horses went extinct in North America but made a come back in the 15th century.
Quick links: Horses have played a significant role in the history of North America and throughout the world. The evolution of horses in North America begins 60 million years ago with Phipps.
It was a small animal, standing only 13 inches and had an arched back similar to some deer. Their teeth indicate the Phipps was a roaming animal that sustained itself on foliage, like leaves and other plant foods.
He had examined the collection of ancient fossils gathered from the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Huxley believed these fossils bolstered the theory of evolution, by tracing Phipps to the modern horse.
It made its way on the scene with small developmental strides over Orohippu, with more grinding teeth, a more substantial body, and changes to its feet. Dinohippus fossils have been found in North America and date from 13-5 million years ago.
The stay mechanism allows horses to stand for extended periods without exerting much energy. 1-4 million years ago, Equus, the modern horse, debuted in North America.
It is unclear precisely what caused the extinction of horses in North America, but there are three viable theories: human overkill, climate change, and infectious disease. Humans crossed the Bering Sea and arrived in North America close to the time horses became extinct.
Equus survived by crossing the Bering land bridge that connected Alaska to Siberia. The Bering Strait land bridge allowed horses and other mammals to travel from Alaska’s northern slope when food supplies dwindled and return during times of abundance.
When the Ice Age ended, sea levels rose to cut off animals’ natural food sources. The flooding of the Bering Strait land bridge resulted in the extinction of many large mammals in North America.
Infectious diseases could have been the cause of the rapid extinction of horses ; however, there is little science to support this theory. Christopher Columbus is credited with bringing horses back to North America in 1493.
Some horses escaped or were abandoned and populated large areas of the southwestern United States. European settlers brought horses of varying breeds to North America.
Horses flourished on the new continent, and they were used for transportation, ranch work, hauling freight, and farming. They theorize the Native people subdued the wild Spanish horses in the mid 16th century.
In the southwestern United States, a wealthy Spaniard established a settlement, which included livestock and horses. Over some time, the Native American helpers recognized the value of horsemanship and learned how to handle horses.
Horses were probably first ridden about 5,500 years ago on the plains of northern Kazakhstan, according to a 2009 study conducted by the University of Peter in the United Kingdom. Archeologists uncovered evidence that indicates horses were selectively bred, used for milk, and possibly ridden.
Through the use of new scientific techniques, the team of researchers confirmed bit damage caused by horses being harnessed or bridled. Related articles: To read more about the native horses of North America, click here.
Image credit: Panel Uchorczak/Shutterstock It is commonly believed that horses are native to the European lands, when in reality, their ancestors came over from the Americas via the Bering Bridge 1 million years ago. Horses agility and intelligence contributes to their pest-like behavior of consuming crops in large amounts, which is unfavorable to farmers.
As the only method for transportation, their purpose was also to help with carrying loads for settlements and to trade with the Indigenous peoples. The name Phipps was given to the earliest species by Thomas Henry Huxley, an English biologist and anthropologist who specialized in comparative anatomy, upon his visit to the United States in 1876.
Literally meaning “dawn horse,” Phipps was described as a “timid forest animal” standing at about 13 inches tall, with a hunched back, leopard-like spots, and four toes on each foot. Having acquired an additional tooth for grinding to feed on tough plants, it also presented itself with a sturdier body.
It not only looked like today's, with its elongated snout and long legs (albeit still with three toes), but it also demonstrated agility and intelligence through its ability to escape and out-trick other species as well as humans who made attempts a domesticating the Merrychipus. Equus managed to make its way through Alaska into Siberia via the Bering Bridge, about 1,000,000 years ago, spreading by land through Asia and Europe all the way to Africa.
Although it remains uncertain why they went extinct on these lands, evidence suggests that humans might have had something to do with it, as they first made their way to the Americas from Siberia by crossing the Bering Strait around that time. The other two theories state that infectious disease and climate change with a consecutive decline in vegetation might have also been the contributing factors.
A little-known fact is that horses, wild horses specifically, can be regarded as pests, as they are capable of consuming large amounts of land resources at a time, including feed for farmers' cattle and the products that farmers grow themselves, such as cabbage, carrots and leafy greens. The last prehistoric North American horses died out between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene, but by then Equus had spread to Asia, Europe, and Africa.
In any case the domesticated horse probably did not arise at a single place and time, but was bred from several wild varieties by Eurasian herders. In recent years, molecular biology has provided new tools for working out the relationships among species and subspecies of equips.
For example, based on mutation rates for mitochondrial DNA (mt DNA) Ann Forster, of the Zoological Institute at the University of Helsinki, has estimated that E. Catullus originated approximately 1.7 million years ago in North America. Her examination of E. samba mt DNA (preserved in the Alaskan permafrost) has revealed that the species is genetically equivalent to E. Catullus.
That conclusion has been further supported by Michael Forfeited, of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, who has found that the variation fell within that of modern horses. Indeed, domestication altered them little, as we can see by how quickly horses revert to ancient behavioral patterns in the wild.
The wild horse in the United States is generally labeled non-native by most federal and state agencies dealing with wildlife management, whose legal mandate is usually to protect native wildlife and prevent non-native species from having ecologically harmful effects. Jay F. Kirkpatrick, who earned a Ph.D. in reproductive physiology from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, has studied fertility control for wild horses.
Patricia M. Fabio, a research fellow at the Science and Conservation Center, earned her Ph.D. in environmental history from Texas A&M University. Her interests include reproductive physiology, the monitoring of wild horse ranges, and the evolution of equips.
Over the course of the past 50 years, since the passing of the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Burro And Horse Protection Act (1971 Act), the management of wild horse Herd Management Areas (Has) have undergone many changes resulting from both political and economic pressures, which stem from increased consumer/market demands for more (cheap) livestock products. As such, management included a significant reduction of apex predators in order to help maximize production via lower livestock losses due to depredation.
The evolved predators of American wild horses include; bears, wolves, mountain lions and coyotes. Critically important is the fact that man cannot duplicate this complex evolutionary process, which is unique between a predator and its prey, and has evolved over the millennia.
The notion held by a few people of suddenly changing course and reintroducing apex predators back into herd areas, which due to powerful economic pressures have evolved into livestock production areas (again, whether right or wrong) is just not going to fly in the face of the market demands for livestock products by the vast majority of American consumers. It’s simply obtuse management as are the many very costly workarounds, such as the failed attempts to address the fallout (overpopulation) from a lack of natural wild horse predators, using expensive roundups and contraception.
These same remote areas are nevertheless blessed with abundant water and forage, yet are suffering from almost annual catastrophic wildfire due to the depleted populations of large native herbivores (deer and elk) that had previously inhabited those landscapes. And over the past decades, that has resulted in the increase of prodigious annually occurring ground fuels (grass and brush), which is now left ungraded in these very remote wilderness areas.
Wildfire Fuels Reduction Using Wild Horses Cattle and sheep have complex stomachs which digest virtually all the plant and grass seeds they consume, rending them unable to germinate. Wild horses, on the other hand, pass virtually all the seeds they consume out onto the ground in their droppings, providing a critically important reseeding function for native plants.
This evolved symbiosis between wild horses and the flora of the North American continent is especially beneficial for wilderness lands that have been devastated by catastrophically hot wildfire. Each wild horse deployed into these selected wilderness areas will symbiotically consume about 5.5 tons of grass and brush annually as the concurrently reseed the landscape, keeping a delicate ecological balance in place.
Przewalski's horse had reached the brink of extinction but was reintroduced successfully into the wild. The Tarzan became extinct in the 19th century, though it is a possible ancestor of the domestic horse; it roamed the steppes of Eurasia at the time of domestication.
However, other subspecies of Equus ferns may have existed and could have been the stock from which domesticated horses are descended. Since the extinction of the Tarzan, attempts to have been made to reconstruct its phenotype, resulting in horse breeds such as the König and Heck horse.
However, the genetic makeup and foundation bloodstock of those breeds is substantially derived from domesticated horses, so these breeds possess domesticated traits. The term “wild horse” is also used colloquially in reference to free-roaming herds of feral horses such as the mustang in the United States, the crumby in Australia, and many others.
The latter two are the only never-domesticated “wild” groups that survived into historic times. In the Late Pleistocene epoch, there were several other subspecies of E.ferns which have all since gone extinct.
The exact categorization of Equus' remains into species or subspecies is a complex matter and the subject of ongoing work. Equus ferns fossil from 9100 BC found near Dense, at the Zoological Museum in CopenhagenProbable European wild horse coat colors The horse family Equine and the genus Equus evolved in North America during the Pliocene, before the species migrated across Bering into the Eastern Hemisphere.
Studies using ancient DNA, as well as DNA of recent individuals, suggest the presence of two equine species in Late Pleistocene North America, a cabal line species, suggested being nonspecific with the wild horse, and Haringtonhippus Francisco, the “New World stilt-legged horse”; the latter has been taxonomically assigned to various names, and appears to be outside the grouping containing all extant equines. In South America there appear to have been several species of equine, Equus (Amerhippus) Neogene, which had previously thought to represent 5 taxa due to morphological variability, and several species of Hippidion, which also lie outside the group containing all living horses.
(It had previously been suggested to have been nested within Equus based on incomplete sequence data ) Currently, three subspecies that lived during recorded human history are recognized.
One subspecies is the widespread domestic horse (Equus ferns Catullus), as well as two wild subspecies: the recently extinct Tarzan (E. f. ferns) and the endangered Przewalski's horse (E. f. przewalskii). Genetically, the pre-domestication horse, E. f. ferns, and the domesticated horse, E. f. Catullus, form a single homogeneous group (clade) and are genetically indistinguishable from each other.
The genetic variation within this clade shows only a limited regional variation, with the notable exception of Przewalski's horse. Besides genetic differences, astrological evidence from across the Eurasian wild horse range, based on cranial and metacarpal differences, indicates the presence of only two subspecies in post glacial times, the Tarzan and Przewalski's horse.
At present, the domesticated and wild horses are considered a single species, with the valid scientific name for the horse species being Equus ferns. The wild Tarzan subspecies is E. f. ferns, Przewalski's horse is E. f. przewalskii, and the domesticated horse is E. f. Catullus.
The rules for the scientific naming of animal species are determined in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, which stipulates that the oldest available valid scientific name is used to name the species. Previously, when taxonomists considered domesticated and wild horse two subspecies of the same species, the valid scientific name was Equus Catullus Linnaeus 1758, with the subspecies labeled E. c. Catullus (domesticated horse), E. c. ferns Border, 1785 (Tarzan) and E. c. przewalskii Polio, 1881 (Przewalski's horse).
However, in 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature decided that the scientific names of the wild species have priority over the scientific names of domesticated species, therefore mandating the use of Equus ferns for the horse, independent of the position of the domesticated horse. Przewalski's horse occupied the eastern Eurasian Steppes, perhaps from the Urals to Mongolia, although the ancient border between Tarzan and Przewalski's distributions has not been clearly defined.
Przewalski's horse was limited to Dzungaria and western Mongolia in the same period, and became extinct in the wild during the 1960s, but was reintroduced in the late 1980s to two preserves in Mongolia. Although researchers such as Maria Gimbals theorized that the horses of the Paleolithic period were Przewalski's, more recent genetic studies indicate that Przewalski's horse is not an ancestor to modern domesticated horses.
However, it was subsequently suggested that Przewalski's horse represent feral descendants of horses belonging to the Bowie culture. Przewalski's horse is still found today, though it is an endangered species and for a time was considered extinct in the wild.
Roughly 2000 Przewalski's horses are in zoos around the world. A small breeding population has been reintroduced in Mongolia.
As of 2005, a cooperative venture between the Zoological Society of London and Mongolian scientists has resulted in a population of 248 animals in the wild. However, the offspring of Przewalski and domestic horses are fertile, possessing 65 chromosomes.
For instance, when the Spanish reintroduced the horse to the Americas, beginning in the late 15th century, some horses escaped, forming feral herds; the best-known being the mustang. Similarly, the crumby descended from horses strayed or let loose in Australia by English settlers.
Isolated populations of feral horses occur in a number of places, including Bosnia, Croatia, New Zealand, Portugal, Scotland and a number of barrier islands along the Atlantic coast of North America from Sable Island off Nova Scotia, to Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia. In 1995, British and French explorers discovered a new population of horses in the Roche Valley of Tibet, unknown to the rest of the world, but apparently used by the local Samba people.
It was speculated that the Roche horse might be a relict population of wild horses, but testing did not reveal genetic differences with domesticated horses, which is in line with news reports indicating that they are used as pack and riding animals by the local villagers. These horses only stand 12 hands (48 inches, 122 cm) tall and are said to resemble the images known as “horse no 2” depicted in cave paintings alongside images of Przewalski's horse.
The Przewalski Horse: Morphology, Habitat and Taxonomy. Przewalski's Horse: The History and Biology of an Endangered Species.
In Ann T. Bowling ; Anatomy Ruins (eds.). ^ a b c Colin Groves, 1986, “The taxonomy, distribution, and adaptations of recent Equips”, In Richard H. Meadow and Hans-Peter Bergmann, eds., Equips in the Ancient World, volume I, pp.
“A Geographic Assessment of the Global Scope for Rewinding with Wild-Living Horses (Equus ferns)”. ^ Kirkpatrick, Jay F.; July 2008, Patricia M. Fabio 24.
“Assessing the Causes Behind the Late Quaternary Extinction of Horses in South America Using Species Distribution Models”. ^ Orlando, Ludovic; Male, Dean; Albert, Maria Teresa; Prado, Jose Luis; Print, Alfredo; Cooper, Alan; Hanna, Catherine (2008-05-01).
“Ancient DNA Clarifies the Evolutionary History of American Late Pleistocene Equips”. ^ Usukhjargal, Dorm; Hen kens, Renew H. G.; Boer, Willem F. DE; Los, Angeles E. W. DE; Ra's, Erica; Dune, Caroline van (August 28, 2009).
“Wolf Predation Among Reintroduced Przewalski Horses in Hastie National Park, Mongolia”. ^ a b c d Don E. Wilson; Deann M. Reader, eds.
“Biostratigraphy and Paleoecology of European Equus”. ^ Provost, Melanie; Bell one, Rebecca; Bedecked, Norbert; Sandoval-Castellanos, Edson; Paisley, Michael; Kuznets ova, Tatyana; Morales-Muñiz, Arturo; O'Connor, Terry; Weissmann, Monika; Forfeited, Michael; Ludwig, Are (15 November 2011).
“Genotypes of domestic horses match phenotypes painted in Paleolithic works of cave art”. ^ “Equus Catullus (horse)”.
“Evolution, systematic, and paleogeography of Pleistocene horses in the New World: a molecular perspective”. ^ Barrón-Ortiz, Christina I.; Rodrigues, Antonia T.; Theodor, Jessica M.; Goodman, Brian P.; Yang, Dong ya Y.; Speller, Camilla F.; Orlando, Ludovic (17 August 2017).
“Cheek tooth morphology and ancient mitochondrial DNA of late Pleistocene horses from the western interior of North America : Implications for the taxonomy of North American Late Pleistocene Equus”. Paula, G.D.; Machete, R.D.E; Scott, E.; Cahill, J.A.
Stiller, M.; Woollier, M.J.; Orlando, L.; South on, J.; Free, D.G. “A new genus of horse from Pleistocene North America ".
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^ a b c Orlando, Ludovic; Male, Dean; Albert, Maria Teresa; Prado, Jose Luis; Print, Alfredo; Cooper, Alan; Hanna, Catherine (9 April 2008). “Ancient DNA Clarifies the Evolutionary History of American Late Pleistocene Equips”.
^ CAI, Data; Huawei Tang; Lu Han; Camilla F. Speller; Dong ya Y. Yang; Violin Ma; Jean'en Can; Hong AHU; Hui Zhou (2009). “Ancient DNA provides new insights into the origin of the Chinese domestic horse”.
^ a b Vila, Charles; Jennifer A. Leonard; Andes Götherström; Stefan Maryland; Key Sandberg; Keratin Laden; Robert K. Wayne; Hans Allergen (2001). “Widespread Origins of Domestic Horse Lineages” (PDF).
^ LAU, Allison; Lei Peng; Pirogi Got; Leona Chem nick; Oliver A. Ryder; Kateryna D. Dakota (2009). “Horse Domestication and Conservation Genetics of Przewalski's Horse Inferred from Sex Chromosomal and Autosomal Sequences”.
^ Jansen, Thomas; Forster, Peter; Levine, Marsha A.; Else, Hardy; Hurdles, Matthew; Renfrew, Colin; Weber, Jürgen; Ole, Klaus (6 August 2002). “Mitochondrial DNA and the origins of the domestic horse”.
The Horse: its domestication, diffusion and role in past communities. Proceedings of the XIII International Congress of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences, For, Italy, 8–14 September 1996.
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^ Bunker, Emma C.; Watt, James C. Y.; Sun, Chitin; N.Y.), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York (2002). Nomadic Art of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes: The Eugene V. Thaw and Other New York Collections.
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), Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 0-8018-5789-9, LCC 98023686 Most of the evolutionary development of the horse (54 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago) actually took place in North America, where they developed the very successful strategy of grazing (eating grass) rather than browsing (eating softer succulent leaves).
These grazers had evolved specialized teeth for processing the stiff and coarse grass that was at that time becoming very plentiful on the Great Plains of North America. These small horses lived in North America some 6 million years ago, when they might have been preyed upon by Sarcophagus, the large, hyena-like dog shown in the sketch.
Horses (Equus)continued to evolve and develop for another six million years after Pliohippu s and became very successful, spreading throughout North America. Then, suddenly, no one is absolutely certain why, between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago, Equus disappeared from North and South America.
Various theories have been advanced including destruction by drought, disease, or extinction as a result of hunting by growing human populations. These early horsemen that came from Spain brought both Spanish and Moorish traditions, including the cinema -style saddle shown above.
Frank Decoy in his ground-breaking study* noted that two items of European culture altered forever the intertribal warfare of the Indians: the horse and the gun. Because Spanish policy forbid the selling or giving of firearms to the Indians–and because few Mexicans possessed guns–the two items came from different directions.
The horse came from the Spanish in the south and west, and the gun came from the French and English, and later the Americans, in the north and east. The American West in the Nineteenth Century: 255 Illustrations from “Harper’s Weekly” and Other Contemporary Sources.
“ Horses of the Plains,” in The Century: a popular quarterly, Volume 37, Issue 3, January 1889. Legally, there are only supposed to be 27,000 wild horses and burros for “thriving natural ecological balance” in the area in which 75,000 now roam.
There are another 45,000 in government holding pens, gathered to prevent overgrazing, that are costing the agency nearly $50 million annually. The Bureau of Land Management is caught in gridlock of lawsuits filed by a variety of interest groups that has hindered the agency’s ability to take action, including administering fertility control on wild horses.
The most widely used wild horse fertility control is Pop, Porcine Zone Pellucid, which TJ Holmes uses in Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area in southwest Colorado. The prerequisites for Pop to work are a herd size that isn’t already over the target size, excellent documentation of the horses, dedicated trained volunteers, access to the horses, and a local BLM staff willing to work with those volunteers.
Successful Pop programs are typically smaller herd areas with easily identified horses and passionate local volunteers. Theoretically, this would work but it would require tens of thousands of horses to be rounded annually, hundreds of volunteers would have to be certified in Pop, and millions of more dollars would have to be allocated by Congress to the BLM.
Pop fertility control is currently administered to fewer than 1 percent of the wild horses and burros annually. Although the BLM annually spends more than $6 million in adoption expenses, they’re competing in an extremely saturated horse market with untouched wild mustangs that can be dangerous or otherwise undesirable.
This well-intended but restricting red tape makes it difficult for trainers to have turnover of horses and the rural horse-owning demographic typically doesn’t like the federal government to control the livestock on their land. The majority of wild horses that enter into the BLM captivity system of living in feedlots and holding pastures will eventually be euthanized in their old age, after they’ve accrued the cost of $50,000 per individual.
Selling the wild horses in holding facilities without stipulation would people to buy them and send them to slaughter. Because the USDA stopped inspection funding for domestic horse slaughter, they would have to be transported to either Canada or Mexico.
The transportation to foreign slaughterhouses can take days, and horses, which are prey animals with a strong flight instinct, are inherently difficult to kill and process. Selling wild horses and burros in holding pens without stipulation is not currently an option being considered by the BLM.
Nationally, the 75,000 wild horses and burros on BLM herd management areas will utilize about 900,000 Animal Unit Monthly (AUM's) of forage in 2017. In 2013, the most recent year I could obtain data, livestock operators were allocated 1.1 million AUM's on the same lands as occupied by horses.
Even if the land size for wild horses was tripled, and they were allocated 100 million acres, within a few decades they would reach capacity on the expanded range and the problem would still exist, just in a much larger state. The possibility exists for Congress to allocate a larger budget for holding pens that would allow the BLM to gather excess horses to alleviate pressure on the range.
Most people don’t consider this a valid option because the BLM logistically can’t find enough places to put the horses in long term pastures, and even if they did find pastures for an additional 10,000 horses each year, that only keeps up with the current population growth in the wild. Most big game populations in North America are controlled by predators, hunting permits, and culling.
For example, elk in Yellowstone National Park were causing ecological damage prior to the reintroduction of wolves. Bison in Yellowstone, on the other hand, don’t have enough predation by wolves, can’t migrate out of the park, and are culled to control population sizes with meat going to Native American tribes.
Over the past 250 years in the American West, humans have created conditions of island biogeography for large herbivores and subjected them to a boom- and-bust cycle. A New York Times article shows that the BLM was in a similar state of emergency in 1991, only back then it was smaller and more manageable.
The 400,000-acre Nevada Wild Horse Range located in the Ellis Air Force Base had been ignored for decades. “The Indian rice grass and tall Shad scale that should nourish the horses is long gone, replaced by inedible rabbit brush and noxious weeds.
And in the case of the BLM, it has never allowed natural regulation to truly occur because public outcry forces them to conduct emergency gathers. The BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program is on an unsustainable path that seems to be at or leading to natural regulation, potential starvation, and destruction of public land.
Although I’m on the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board and have studied the issue closely for the past six years, I’ve never seen the 15-year plan for the BLM to get the program back on a sustainable track. Under the Trump administration, Ryan Zine was appointed to be the Secretary of the Interior and Neil Bronze is no longer the director of the BLM.
The galleries that follow provide a glimpse into the countless ways that horses have transformed human societies around the world.